Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Smooth Handoff Tradition In House 88

So House Ways and Means chair Tom Sands has bailed on re-election, two days after the primary, and successor Jason Delzell of Wapello was all lined up to announce two hours later.

Where have I heard this story before? Oh, yeah. In this exact same district. Sands leaves the seat the exact same way he got the seat. Sit back for some history.

The Louisa-west Muscatine County based seat has frustrated Democrats for many cycles, much like Cedar County's House 73. So close to Johnson County, so reachable on paper, so difficult in practice. Democrats Frank Best in 2008 and Sara Sedlacek in 2012 both reached the upper 40s but fell short; both have taken their names off the list this time but Dems are likely to announce a name soon.

(Past party switches were an issue in the 1st CD and the Johnson County supervisor race; will they be an issue at the House 88 Republican convention? The fix seems to be pretty clearly in, but rumor mill says Delzell has some crossover history...)

House 88 first took on its approximate format in the 1991 map. Democrat Mark Shearer (who later served in the Senate) inherited it, but lost to Barry Brauns in 1992.

Democrats let the seat go in 1994, then recruited a Some Dude to challenge Brauns in 1996.

That would be me.

The district came up into Johnson County at the time, and I lived in Lone Tree. (It now goes south and covers rural Des Moines County instead). I pretty much had nothing but doorknocking - I was the 85th candidate recruited and must have been below #80 on the target list. Got stomped in the rurals, won a couple small towns and helped Bill Clinton and Tom Harkin carry Louisa County. Final score was 62-38%, which probably represents a bare minimum.

For the record I am NOT moving and running again. Not that anyone has asked.

The seat was a top target in 2000 when Sally Stutsman ran, but she lost to Brauns 55-45. Given her success in her county races and her two later runs in House 77 (where she's retiring and Amy Nielsen is the nominee) I'd say the 1990s configuration of that seat was unwinnable.

But a lot has changed, demographically more than geographically. The current House 88 is the top Hispanic seat in the state. West Liberty is Hispanic majority, Columbus Junction is close, and Nichols is also heavily Hispanic and Burmese. In the Year of Trump, this gives Democrats a great pickup opportunity.

In 2002 a couple of re-districting pair-ups shuffled this seat. Brauns was placed in a very un-even pairup with fellow Republican Jim Hahn: one precinct from the old rural Brauns seat, and the whole city of Muscatine which was the core of Hahn's. The rural district also lost the northern tier of Muscatine county, a key part of Brauns' base (as I learned the hard way), which went north to the Cedar County seat. That area got put back into the Louisa district in the 2011 map.

On the Senate side, long long long time GOP incumbent Richard Drake was paired up with a rookie Democrat, who had used right to lifer support to upset Jack Rife, one of the last pro-choice Republicans.

That rookie Democrat would be Tom Fiegen. And this pair up made things complicated. Dick Drake was MORE than ready to retire. But under redistricting law, if Drake had retired, there would be no election. Fiegen would simply hold the seat till 2004.

I'm certainly not an insider on Muscatine County GOP politics, but what happened next is pretty clear. Hahn was slated to get the Senate seat in 2004, which would open up the Muscatine city based House seat for Brauns.

Brauns filed for re-election in the rural Muscatine-Louisa based seat - listing a post office box in Nichols as his address. Then, immediately after the primary, Brauns all of a sudden decided NOT to run for re-election after all. And banker Tom Sands just so happened to be ready to run.

In 2004 the masterplan didn't play out perfectly. Hahn did move over to the Senate, defeating Fiegen again. (Fiegen's lifetime election record is now 1 win, 4 losses.) And Brauns, apparently unhappy with the Nichols post office, filed in the Muscatine city seat, from the same house he had "moved out of" before. But the comeback was thwarted by Democrat Nathan Reichert, who served three terms.

I could keep trying up the loose ends to this story, but it already took me enough tale-telling to get to the point. There are many, many tangents that ripple into many neighboring districts, and I'm just getting back to writing and not ready for a District Of The Day marathon.

Just one last story.

If you've ever been a candidate, you don't forget your best helpers. Columbus Junction is a tough town to doorknock. Lots and lots of hills and a really weird street pattern. One of my best 1996 doorknocking partners was a high school student from CJ, who's gone on to some great success as an attorney in Des Moines. You may have heard the name Nate Boulton this week. At least ONE of us was able to win an election, and I'm especially proud. Congrats, Senator.

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